Childe Harold Wills

The majority of automotive pioneers are relatively unknown to the general public, even though their inventions made the modern car possible. One of such remarkable underestimated minds was Childe Harold Wills born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1878.

His fascinating life and impressive accomplishments changed the way automobiles operate. The young Wills despised his first name Childe and preferred being called C. Harold instead. Harold showed interest in cars from a very young age.

He studied metallurgy, mechanical engineering and chemistry in every free moment of his time, which was difficult while working during the day at a Detroit factory.

C. Harold's first managing position came in 1901, at the age of 23. It was considered a great responsibility to be named the chief engineer of the Burroughs Calculating Machine Company. Calculators were a cutting edge technology in those days.

Wills pursued his automotive interests as well, when he got the opportunity to work on iconic race cars models from Henry Ford. In his early days, Ford was actually more famous as a racer rather than an engineer or inventor. He didn't have much money and struggled greatly to keep his automobile manufacturing dream alive. Still, Ford managed to persuade Harold Wills to design more efficient race cars for him.

A background in metallurgy allowed Childe Harold Wills to develop a new lightweight chrome vanadium alloy steel with fantastic strength and durability properties. He became Ford's right hand man after finding a steelmaker that produced this unique metal in large quantities. The famous Model T was at the very beginning and Henry Ford needed every advantage he could get.

Childe Harold Wills used his skill further to design a four cylinder engine and a prototype gear set transmission, which made the cornerstone of Model T's success. Model T was created on a simple principle of using quality metals and brilliant engineering solutions provided from Wills and Ford. Childe Wills had many interests, including calligraphy as a hobby. Henry Ford asked him to produce some sort of a logo for the new company.

After a while, C. Harold Wills designed the basic Ford logo letters that are known worldwide today, without the blue oval shape. The two worked together for 17 years, until Henry Ford decided to buy out other investors in the Ford Motor Company. In 1919, Wills left with several million dollars in his pocket searching for the next great challenge. His desire was to build his own car in a fully industrial environment. The following year, Childe Harold Wills found his dream base in a small town of Marysville near Detroit. A car factory surrounded with a planned community of workers and their families was established.

Everything was in place, ready to produce results. The car was named Wills St. Claire, but because of Harold's perfectionism the model was presented to the general public one year later. Wills St. Claire Roadster became instant a sensation in the automotive world, popularly nicknamed the Grey Goose.

This engineering masterpiece had the first overhead camshaft V8 engine installed with great performance statistics. However, the price was very expensive, which led to poor sales and the end of production after only six years. There were 12,107 cars produced before Wills St. Claire Company became a part of history.

Afterwards, Wills worked for the Chrysler Corporation and lived pretty well from his patents. As fate would have it, C. Harold Wills died in 1940 at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Only eighty six Wills St. Claire models survived to this very day and some can be seen in Wills St. Claire Museum in Marysville, where it all began.

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